BARUNGA FESTIVAL & ELEANOR DIXON
(10-12 JUNE 2016, NEAR KATHERINE, NT)
Now in its 31st year, Barunga Festival celebrates Indigenous community life, through sport, arts, culture and music.
Eleanor Dixon (singer-songwriter and lead singer of the band, Rayella) is part of the music program, which also includes Wildflower, Kardajala kirri-darra (Sand Hill Women), B2M, Caiti Baker, Serina Pech, Justine Clarke, Courtney Barnett and Jen Cloher.
With Barunga Festival approaching, Eleanor Dixon spoke with Rhythms.
When and how did music come into your life?
It started when I was very little. I used to sing in church with my Dad (he plays the guitar and some other instruments). It was something that I looked forward to every Sunday. As a child, the music I heard was pretty much always music that was being played in the community – jam sessions at the community centre, in church. I’ve been writing poems since I was young – for me it was always words that got me interested in ways to express. Growing up was hard, but writing kept me grounded and true to myself. I wrote my first song when I was sixteen [‘I’ll be Loving You’, about her Auntie]. I was home-schooled by my Mum and I went to the community school for some years, then I went away to boarding school in Darwin for a couple of years and graduated.
What does music mean to you?
Music is more than just poetry. It’s storytelling. I not only grew up with music that was played by instrument, I grew up with music sung by my grandparents, traditional songs. Music reminds me of who I am every day. Music is a lot to me.
What is your connection with Brian Ritchie (Violent Femmes)?
Oh yeah, Brian! We go back two years, when we did Bush Band Bash. We had the privilege to meet him and to be mentored. He liked our music and our stories. Brian lives now in Tasmania and runs the MONA FOMA festival. Bush Band Bash was the starting point for us [Rayella] as a band, then Brian got us straight down to Hobart to perform. Brian’s been there for us since that time. Hobart was really lovely. Apparently it was the summer, but it was so cold. The sun was out…for probably a couple of minutes!
Tell us about your community of Marlinja [mar-lin-jar], Northern Territory
It’s a very small community. There must be only thirty or less people. Bush life. It’s pretty good actually. We’re all connected. We’re all family. That’s where our music comes from – country, family. Opportunities might not be there every day. That’s why I do music – to create new ways, to give options to the younger kids. The community has access to phones and the internet – which really does help for emergencies, keeping in touch. When I’m away, I miss my kids [aged five and four] – being away from them is really hard. But it’s these things that we must sacrifice to give them a better future.
What are some of the similarities and differences between home and touring
The similar thing that we have is music, because music connects everyone. Music is the main thing for the soul. It’s a two-way thing, where everyone gives and receives. Being away, the places are different, the faces are new and the food is definitely different.
Were did you get the leggings/tights you wore at the National Folk Festival?
I got them online – it’s an Aboriginal organisation and they sell clothes that have really nice paintings and patterns.
As a songwriter, how do you deal with cultural sensitivities?
It’s just something that’s natural to me. I don’t have to think about it, it’s a part of who we are. We have law and certain things that we have been taught. We know what’s right and what’s wrong.
Tell us about your songs in Mudburra language
It’s very important. It helps to keep our language going and keep it strong. It’s good to share it with everyone else too. Some folks down south don’t even know there’s perhaps a hundred different languages that are still spoken and that we don’t all speak the same language. Our children need something to hold on to. What better way to keep it than in a song and telling the stories that are important to our children through song. We speak Mudburra at home. I don’t only just speak my father’s tongue [Mudburra], I do speak my mother’s as well – Garawa, which is from the Gulf.
What’s coming up for the remainder of the year?
I’ve been writing a lot of new stuff on my own, without my Dad – that’s what I’ll be performing at the Barunga. And I’ve been working with my Auntie to create songs, mostly in language, about being an Aboriginal woman from our area. It tells stories about a young girl growing up to be a woman. It explains to our younger generation how to look after yourself. Being a young woman, it’s not easy. These sorts of things need to be told and growing up you need someone to look up to.
And what are you looking forward to at Barunga Festival?
A lot of things! Communities come together and share their culture, music and stories. And I’m looking forward to spending time with family, because Barunga is a family thing as well.
Barunga Festival: www.barungafestival.com.au
Rayella’s music: iTunes and Barkly Regional Arts (www.barklyarts.com.au)